SAMRC: Excess deaths during pandemic now more 125,000

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South Africa has recorded more than 125,000 excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Times reports a report by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has revealed.

According to the report, during December last year and January this year, the numbers of excess deaths increased relentlessly as the second COVID-19 wave hit South Africa.

The Report on Weekly Deaths in SA showed that the cumulative number of excess deaths from natural causes since May 2020 had reached more than 125,000 by 23 January, 2021. But the report revealed that in the most recent week, there had been an apparent decline in the increase.

According to Professor Debbie Bradshaw, chief specialist scientist at the SAMRC and a co-author of the report, the timing and geographic pattern left “no room to question whether this is associated with the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The report quotes SAMRC president and CEO Glenda Gray as saying the council had been tracking mortality for decades, adding that this system has enabled the country to be one of the few middle-income countries able to track excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The team is collaborating with the department of health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to set up a data linkage project to improve the reports of the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 deaths for the country.”


“Unfortunately, it will probably be some years before we have the information about the medical cause of death and so we cannot distinguish between deaths directly associated with COVID-19 and those that may have resulted due to the health system being overburdened,” Bradshaw is quoted in a Cape Argus report as saying.

“However, it is clear that COVID-19 has spread very quickly in this second wave and it has shown up in the number of cases reported deaths. We have raised this before at the height of the first wave, we are urging the government to see how they can almost re-engineer the death registry so that it can become readily available more quickly to provide information that can be relied on.

“There are countries that have online digital registration with online systems where they are able to access that information quite quickly while we have a paper-based manual system of compiling all the deaths.”

Public Health specialist for the Western Cape Health Department, Professor Andrew Boulle said: “We believe the excess deaths are the most accurate reflection of the direct and indirect mortality impact of the epidemic.”

“The pattern of both the excess deaths and the officially reported deaths in patients of SARS-Cov-2 infection both now demonstrate a decline in mortality in keeping with the declines in test positive, oxygen utilisation, hospitalization and active and new cases.”

Bradshaw said they were cautiously optimistic that the decrease seen in the third week of the year indicates a turning point of excess mortality in the current wave, adding that this would become clearer with the data that would be released on Wednesday.


Full report in The Times (Open access)


SAMRC Special Report on COVID-19 Deaths in SA


Full Cape Argus report (Restricted access)



See also MedicalBrief archives:

MRC: More than 106,000 excess deaths in period May to mid-January


SAMRC: Record in excess deaths in first week in January

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